Iraqi dissident warns US of campaign mistakes

04 April 2003
Coalition forces have fallen into traps laid for them by Saddam Hussein to prevent the invaders being greeted as liberators, according to the head of the London-based Iraqi Refugee Aid Council, Hussain al-Shahristani, reported in London's Financial Times. Shahristani was chief scientific adviser to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission until being imprisoned in solitary confinement for 10 years, apparently for refusing involvement in attempts to build a nuclear weapon. He escaped during the 1990-91 Gulf war. Shahristani warns that Saddam Hussein is forcing coalition troops into situations where they risk killing Iraqi civilians, while at the same time his own forces are still shooting at the civilian population, deterring any uprising. 'I think the Americans are very quickly falling into the trap,' he says. 'They have committed some very serious mistakes.'

Three central errors are identified. Firstly, the failure to surround towns in the south immediately upon arrival, allowing the Iraqi government to dispatch reinforcements in civilian clothes to maintain control over residents. Insufficient protection was given to the inhabitants of towns like Basra, leaving them exposed to the reprisals of regime loyalists if they showed signs of revolt. Shahristani, temporarily based in Kuwait to help with humanitarian efforts across the border, said that he had received news from inside Iraq of 10 people being killed in Khidr, near Nasiriya, for failing to resist US troops. The final mistake was to react too strongly to the only suicide bombing reported so far, which killed four US soldiers on 29 March. 'Initially, the British troops showed some respect for the people and their traditions, and to an extent the Americans tried it in the first few days,' Shahristani said. 'But as soon as Saddam got a few people in civilian clothes to fight, the situation changed. Every civilian is a suspect. These troops cannot be allowed to keep on shooting at vehicles just because they suspect them.' At least seven women and children were shot dead by US troops on 31 March when their car apparently failed to stop at a checkpoint.

Shahristani also urged the US to involve the UN in post-war government in order to secure the support of the Iraqi population. 'The Iraqis have suffered so much under this regime that they cannot possibly accept another military dictatorship or even a civilian puppet government set up by the Americans.'

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